Monday, September 7, 2009

We are all Experiencing the Turmoil of Information Revolution

Turmoil of the Industrial Revolution

We are all familiar with the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution. The problems were caused by the change brought about by machines in the lifestyle, work culture, organization structures at work, the structure of family, the change in ethics and values. The change in values created heart burn and frustration - relationships which were more at personal levels became more formal. It took generations for man to come to terms with the changes brought about by the industrial revolution.

Similarly, currently we are all going through the pain and turmoil of the Information Revolution.

Turmoil of the Information Revolution?

"Turmoil of the Information revolution?", you may ask. "What turmoil? Computers are proliferating in business organizations and entering every walk of our life. The computerization scenario looks very euphoric. So where is the turmoil?"

Just as man did not notice the turbulence caused by the industrial revolution till it was all over, we today are not aware of the turmoil we are going through. If we look more closely into what is happening in most of the companies trying to automate processes using computers, it will be evident that deep inside, this technology is still foreign to us. Man is still not at ease with this device. He is perplexed, foxed, fidgety and sometimes angry when dealing with this creature.

Implementation of computerized systems, particularly business application systems, is a major problem in most countries, including advanced economies. Most of the computerization projects fail because of poor implementation. More often, it is due to people issues and not technical issues. It is due to the way people react to computerization and how they understand or misunderstand computers. The gap between computer professionals and computer users and between computer professionals and the company top management is evident. And so is the turmoil of the information revolution.

Need to Address the Turmoil

I believe that the world incurs colossal loss due to this turmoil on account of failed or delayed implementations. There is loss of people's productivity due to conflicts and stress.

There is a need to address this issue. In most IT forums and meets, surprisingly a lot is talked about computer technology, and about bits and bytes. Rarely do we talk of the implementation issues and methods which will make computers acceptable to people. The turmoil of the information revolution should not be pushed under the carpet but discussed threadbare and openly.

Why don't computers find a smooth entry into the minds and lives of human beings?
What is the root cause of this confusion?

The chaotic situation is not country-specific; it is related to the human species as a whole. It is a problem of the evolution of human psychology from the era of industrial revolution to the information age.

I have analyzed and found few fundamental problems in man's perception of computers and his understanding of computers, due to which however hard he tries to be at ease with them, he finds himself jittery and confused. What is required is an eye-opener. I define an eye opener as something which brings to fore a simple fact which always existed but was never noticed. We need to open our eyes to some common myths and misconceptions about computers and this technology. I shall discuss these in the forthcoming posts.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Legacy of the Machine Age

The current generation of man has a legacy of a mental make-up which has been shaped and groomed in the machine age and which is unable to adjust itself in an age of computers.

It took generations for man to come to terms with the changes brought about by the industrial revolution. Man went through the turmoil of that revolution and emerged victorious. As years passed by, machines and mechanical thinking started seeping into his mindset. Slowly, he had mastered the change, and knew how to live with machines. A new era dawned over mankind creating a new industrial culture.

As man was evolving into the industrial psychology, machines too were evolving. Initially there were mechanical machines. Then came the electrical ones and then electronic. Thereafter came computers. As the industrial culture was deeply ingrained into his mental makeup by then, man thought that computer was just another machine. Armed with his centuries' old knowledge and the experience of dealing with the change brought about by machines, he adopted the same old approach to deal with the introduction of computers. He thought it was just another electronic machine.

What he did not realize was that it was not merely the introduction of one more new machine, but a dawn of a new era altogether, a change from the industrial era to the information era. Little did he realize that just as the industrial era required a new thinking, new approach and a new culture, the 'Information era' too requires adopting new methods and new ideas to tackle the onslaught of computers. His concepts of machines, which were shaped and developed in the machine age, failed miserably when applied to computers. He did not realize that the computer was not just another industrial age machine but an information age device. This failure on his part has caused some key misconceptions, which is the primary cause of the turbulence of the Information revolution which I talked about in my post earlier.

I found Mr. SC Jolly, or rather he found me


I had in my previous post dated 8th April 09 talked about Mr SC Jolly, ex COO of Saraswati Sugar Mills, and wished that he read my blog as I had lost touch with him. I had requested anyone who knew him to get me in touch with him. By a strange coincidence, I found him. Rather Mr Jolly found me through this Blog. Mr. Jolly was visiting his son in the US and just out of curiosity his son searched on "SC Jolly, Sugar Technologist" in Google and found my blog on the first page of his search output. Had he searched on any other keywords, he may not have found my page. Mr. Jolly went through the blog and then visited my website at http://www.pukamble.co.cc and left the following post in my guestbook at my website on the 4th of Aug 2009:

Quote

I have been deeply impressed by the awesome work done by you since you left Yamunanagar. From the day one I was touched by the way you approached the problem & the enormous patience you had. This was probably because you were convinced that the change you were trying to bring about was sure.


All the same, wish you the best. Pl keep in touch. [S.C.Jolly]"

UnQuote

I was thrilled to see his comment in my guest book. We later exchanged mails and also talked on phone. I am back in touch with M. Jolly!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Best and the Worst CEO for Computerization

It is often the CEO who makes the difference between success and failure of a software driven transformation.
In my long career as head of IT and implementing software projects within companies, I have come across a variety of CEOs – some of them who were excellent change managers and others who were not. So, I classify all CEOs into 2 major categories – those who understand computerisation (not computers) and those who don't. Understanding computerization for a CEO means understanding the psychology of change brought about by automation. How well he understands this determines the success or failure of software projects.
Whenever I speak of the role of CEOs or top managers, I always remember this COO who was the best CXO I have worked with in my career – the best at least from computerization point of view. His name was Mr S C Jolly and he was the head of Sarawati Sugar Mill in Yamuna Nagar, (a group company of the Saraswati group consisting of Sugar mill, heavy engineering unit, etc. where I worked as their Group IT Head). It was my first job as a IT Head with only 4.5 years of prior work experience, and I set up the entire IT department and was higly successful in developing and implementing complex applications (see success stories published in Computers Today and Times of India at http://pukamble.co.cc/ct1 and http://pukamble.co.cc/toi). Mr Jolly is the best IT enabler I have come across in 28 years of my IT career and 24 years as head of IT/Software). I hope Mr Jolly reads this. Anyone who knows him may please convey my feelings of appreciation for him. The last time I was in touch with him he was living a retired life in Delhi.
And what was it that he did best to enable successful automation? You will be surprised to know - the best thing that he did was that HE DID NOT REACT. He was so balanced that he did not react to complaints as they came in. I was just 29 – 30 years young manager but I used to chat with him in his office and he oftern shared with me some of his wisdom. He said that he received several complaints about computerization. Some of the users were fed up and frustrated. What was different about him (which I have rarely seen in many CXO's I have worked with later) is that he did not immediately start blaming the computer department. He said that their frustration and complaints were not a result of any problem with technology or the tech department – they were a result of their reaction to change.
Let me paint the following scenario of an incident to illustrate what I said.
I had completed the automation of a very complex application very successfully (as the users were very cooperative and mature). I then started the automation of the most common and relatively simple application - payroll. But I was having great difficulty in implementing the system. The HR/Admin manager was simply not able to go live with the application. As is my style, I first tried hard to convince him and persuade him. But when I failed, I set up a meeting with the COO, Mr Jolly. The HR manager had several complaints on the system and lot of master data preparation was pending. And following is the scene at the meeting.
There I am sitting in front of the COO's desk - a clean big table with just one Economic Times lying in one corner. By my side is the HR Manager – both of us facing the COO. And the Manager beside me starts off by cursing the system, fretting and fuming and blaming the system in no uncertain terms. "Our neighboring company has been using Payroll for years and they do not face any such problems. We just don't know how to do it…"
The COO quitely listens to all that is being said. There is no reaction whatsoever and no expression on his face. He patiently waits for the manager to finish blurting out what he has to. When the manager is finished with his story, the COO – completely unmoved by all that was said and with no emotions on his face – asks what were the next steps. He reviews the steps to be taken, sets targets for master data correction (which was the primary reason for all problems) and closes the meeting.
And believe me, it worked wonders.
Later one day he gave me his words of wisdom, "The HR Manager was reacting as he did not because there is anything wrong with the system, but he is uneasy under the impact of change. The frustration, anger, complaints have nothing to do with the causes that the managers state. They themselves do not know that it is their reaction to change and has no relation with the issues that they complain about. But I give them a patient hearing just to allow them to let off steam."
I have not heard wiser words than these from any CXO in over 20 years of my career after this incident. I have suffered from some of the worst CXO's too – there were some who would believe the first guy who went and complained about computerization. And hell would fall on IT.

Need for IT Awareness amongst CEOs and Senior Professionals

In the long industrial history of mankind, functions like Finance, HR, production and Marketing always existed. IT function is new which has come into existence not in the industrial age but the information age. No wonder, IT is an area where there is maximum ignorance amongst the top management. Man will evolve to understand this new function as the dust of the information revolution settles.
My readers may think I am being arrogant - posing as if IT folks know everything and others don't know anything. That is not my intention. Yes I do not know the finer points about other functions like Finance, HR, Production, Marketing. CEOs and senior managers too may be equally ignorant of all other functions - you may argue. So why am I complaining about IT alone?
There is a difference. The senior management may not know about finance, HR, Production, marketing, etc. But the good thing is that they know that they do not know about these fields. They also know what they do not know about them. Further, they know that there are other experts who know more than what they themselves do and are therefore willing to use the expertise of the experts.
In case of IT, particularly with respect to Software, the senior management does not know what they do not know and need to know. They certainly know that they do not know software and programming, but there is much more to Software Management (particularly in managing software within corporates) which they can and should know as it is not technology. What is worse is that they do not know that they do not know something which they can know.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Let me explain what CEOs and non IT Managers do not know and which they can easily know.Most managers think IT management is all technology. What they do not know is that software head not only has technology skills (Fig. 1), but also has people/change management and process skills. So whereas the CEOs will readily consult the IT guy for technological advise, they may not know that they can also use their change management and process management skills.

On the other hand, most managers are quick to admit that they do not know technology ("I am not a technology guy, you see"). With this they may also absolve themselves of all their responsibility of automation. Technology is just 5% of what they need to know if they are part of an automation project (Fig. 2). What they need to know and can easily know is the management of change and the psychology of change brought about by automation. User Managers should know the process of software development and the limitations thereof. If they can learn this and be fully involved in the automation process, there is no reason why a software project should fail.
There are several change management issues, people dynamics and process issues related to Software management that senior management can easily know. But unfortunately, in the field of software, ignorance is rampant because it is thought of as only a technical field - whereas there is a lot more to it than technology. What is worse is that several CEOs do not even know that such expertise is available to use. They are not aware of even the need to use this expertise, because for them, automation is a technology exercise.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Challenges of an in-house IT Professional

Recently, as a head of in-house Applications Software group, I was asked a few questions related to my job. Given here are the questions and my responses.

clip_image001 Managing large scale software development, implementation and operations, can you give a gist of key challenges and how do you approach your implementations?

Everybody thinks that computers are smart and can do anything. But we, as software professionals, alone know that under the hood we are harboring a dumb, adamant and yet most powerful creature in the world (the computer) which can bring your world crashing with the silliest of mistakes. Computer software is like a glass house which needs to be handled with extreme care. A small change in a comma or a full-stop in a million-line code can crash the system or lead to completely erroneous results. For this dumb and powerful guy called computer to be faithfully serving you right, you need to have a very disciplined process where not even a small mistake is allowed. Now since the world has a very different image about computers, you run a great risk of being completely misunderstood and sometimes hated for your “over cautious and strange ways”. The big challenge for the IT guy is to continue to do the right things in the best interest of the company, even if people misunderstand you and you have to be the “bad guy”. In other words, you cannot be a nice guy and do the right things for your company.

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clip_image001[1] How does business and software development unit collaborate?

Software development and implementation is a very collaborative activity and needs perfect teamwork between the business and IT. The IT person who programs the computer does not know the business process and the business expert who knows the process does not know how to speak to the computer. In such a scenario, it is imperative that both collaborate and create automated processes. It is like two people doing rock-climbing, where both reach new heights by pulling and supporting each other. Having developed and implemented several solutions which are being used successfully by several internal customers, in itself, is a proof of the collaboration.

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clip_image001[3] What do think are the biggest challenge in a internal software development scenario?

Having worked both in internal software development scenario and also in software companies, I can say that internal software development scenario needs very specialized skills which are very different from what a software development company needs. It is a great balancing act between the pressures of your internal customers, senior management expectations, the dumb guy that is computer (as I explained above) and your own staff members who are ready to quit and join a software company at the drop of a hat.

Developing software in the confines of the computer department is relatively easier part of the job. The real challenge comes in implementations when you want to make the software work in the heated environment of personal preferences, attitudes, interests and fears. The people issues of implementation are unique to internal development scenarios which software companies rarely experience. Making it work and sustaining continued error free operation is the challenge only in internal IT.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Creating a Strong Team by Using Individual Strengths

Following is quoted from my article Key Success Factors which described the key success factors behind my record of delivering all software projects on time. This was some sort of a record for the company I was working in. Using individual’s strengths in the team was one of the key success factors.
In a team, it is important that one member’s weakness is covered by someone else’s individual strengths in such a way that each one contributes through his strengths and the team as an entity is solid. A good team is one where everyone puts in his or her strength and covers others’ weaknesses - without any ego problems, without taking pride and without belittling others.
I am sure you will ask, “With this approach, you can never help people overcome their weaknesses”. On the contrary, a good manager uses the strengths of his team-mates while slowly working on their weaknesses - so that the weaknesses are overcome without making the team-mate too conscious of his or her deficiencies. A person normally does a good job when working on the job which he loves to do. Success is a big motivator and the motivation of a job well done gives him the energy to do the other jobs which he does not like to do, and thus helps him to overcome his shortcomings too in the course of time. A motivated person can certainly work over his weaknesses better than a person, who cannot even use his strengths, can. I believe that it is the manager’s job to see that the individual’s strength is used and he feels motivated.
I have seen some people who mainly look at the weaknesses and keep pointing out errors and personal deficiencies. Nagging a person for his weaknesses makes him very conscious of himself and he cannot even use his strength. Only a very strong person, who is truly self-motivated and strongly believes in himself, can continue to perform consistently in spite of continuous nagging by his superior.